U of M BME Articles

3 Fundraising Articles for the University of MN Biomedical Engineering Department

by Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Alumni Lynn Otten Gives Back Through BME Scholarships

The University of Minnesota has much to be proud of in its alumni.  Countless graduates leave the campus and embark on careers, influencing the world in their own unique way.  This influence multiplies when alumni take the opportunity to reconnect with the University and give a gift that impacts the upcoming generation of students in their field.  One such alum is Lynn Otten, whose accomplishments led her to establish an ongoing scholarship for undergraduate women in Biomedical Engineering.

After her graduate program at the University, Ms. Otten worked for 3M and then Medtronic.  In 1998, while at Medtronic, she spearheaded the five-year effort in the Neurological Division to develop the Activa Tremor Control system, the first FDA-approved electrical stimulation device for long-term implant in the brain.  The device almost completely stops tremors in Parkinson’s patients. Ms. Otten was named “Engineer of the Year” by Design News, and as part of her award, she granted $34,000 to the University to fund BME scholarships.  The scholarship has been awarded to two young women every year since 1999; students receive a gift of $3,000 for two consecutive years.

Lynn Otten explains her desire to give to the BME program: “I felt women in the sciences, particularly in the biosciences, were being ignored back then. I thought awarding them scholarships would help expand the new BME program and allow them to be part of it.  Also, being located in the Twin Cities at the time, I very much enjoyed the opportunities the department arranged to meet the Otten Scholars periodically.”

This year’s recipients are Kristen Wxxx and Sarah Bxxx.  Kristen, a junior, always liked math and science.  In high school, she was involved with the chemistry and physics demo team, giving interactive presentations to school kids.  She became interested in BME after an event by the Society for Women Engineers where she talked to college students in the field.  “I have a passion for helping people,” says Kristen. “I saw a direct correlation… by being in biomedical engineering, I could directly affect people’s lives.”

Kristen grew up in the Twin Cities, so location was a factor in choosing the University, as well as the strong biomedical presence in the community.  She is looking forward to studying biomechanics.  “I really like the idea of making prostheses, and I’d like to work in that area.”

Senior Sarah Bxxx also grew up in the Twin Cities, her love of math steering her towards engineering.  Before entering high school, she tore her ACL playing basketball.  “I was absolutely amazed how something so small could have such a large impact on the next six months of my life, which made me realize how amazing biology and the human body are,” says Sarah.  Through BME, “I get the opportunity to find solutions that impact people.”

Last summer, she spent nine weeks at MIT with other Amgen Scholars, culminating in a symposium in Los Angeles.  “It was an incredible opportunity to gain research experience, become a part of a different lab environment…and connect with other people from around the country with very different backgrounds from me.”  At the U of M, she’s working with Professor David Wxxx to develop a model of sickle hemoglobin polymerization.  She’s looking at graduate schools.  “I’m interested in working on a cellular level.”

Bob Txxx, BME department head, acknowledges that scholarships like this “undoubtedly help our recipients to improve their college education by allowing them to focus more on their classes, research and professional development,” reducing the need to work as hard to financially support their studies.

Alumni gifts not only have an impact on the students who receive them in the present day, but the potential impact on the future is great.  Like Lynn Otten, these students may go on to make BME contributions that improve people’s lives.  And like Lynn Otten, as an alum, you too can give back to help students in their efforts toward that future.

Alumni Scholarships Greatly Impact Student Recipients and the BME Department

 The Biomedical Engineering Department at the University of Minnesota is keenly aware of the effect that alumni can have on current scholars and the success of the BME program.  Generous gifts by alumni to scholarship funds combine to create life-altering awards.  Taner Axxx, Director of Undergraduate Studies, says, “There are multiple aspects of scholarships. First, the students receiving the scholarships realize that his/her time and efforts are finally recognized. This is probably more important than the financial aspect, as it boosts the morale and encourages the student to do even better.”  He explains how the effects of getting a scholarship continue even after graduation as the student searches for work or further education.  “The scholarships are a demonstration of success, and will be valued by the employers or admission committees.”

Arman Sxxx and “Mike” Mikhail Gxxx are the latest recipients of alumni scholarships of $1500 each.

Arman Sxxx says he’s always been fascinated by the human body. “It wasn’t until I spent a year living in Ecuador that I realized I could combine my love for math with a science that applies it to a system I want to learn about—the body.”  He was born in Minneapolis but spent 9 months teaching in Otavalo after graduating high school, and visits there often.  “I consider both Minnesota and Ecuador my homes.”

His educational interests led him to want to study BME.  “There are numerous avenues in technology that lead to financial stability and well-paying jobs, however, very few save lives.”  It’s important to him that BME has the end goal of improving patient care.  “I plan to dedicate my life to just that.”

The scholarship he received has had a double impact, not only helping him but others as well.  He says “This scholarship makes life much easier for me during my senior year, from a financial standpoint…it’s also making it much easier for me to focus on financially supporting a few of my ex-students in Otavalo, who are extremely poor, through their high-school education. In this way, a scholarship for me is translating into opportunity for them.”

Mike Gxxx was born in Moscow, Russia, but spent most of his growing up years in Japan before moving to the US for his undergraduate studies.  His interest in BME grew out of his family connections.  Both of his parents are chemical engineers, and he says his grandparents died of medical conditions before he ever got a chance to know them.  “That’s probably one of the main reasons I became curious about medicine and biology; I wanted to learn more about how the human body works.”  He was also fascinated by the cross-relationships between biology and engineering.  “I wanted to try out BME, a new field (for me) that combined what I liked (my passion for biology) and what I enjoyed (engineering). Taking introductory courses in BME at the U was eye-opening for me to see the integration of engineering disciplines with biology to improve the lives of many people!”

The alumni scholarship gave him opportunities and experiences he might not otherwise been able to have. “I was able to get involved in research instead of having to work part time.    It was very helpful– I was basically able to focus on academia and studying. I also worked for a year at the Amplatz Children’s Hospital as a pediatric emergency department volunteer. The scholarship enabled me to do these things, and if I hadn’t had the scholarship, I might have had to work somewhere else.”

Director Taner Axxx explains, “The scholarships and gifts from alumni link the previous and future generations. It also strengthens the relationship between the alumni and the department.”  Scholarship donations by alumni help and encourage students to continue in their studies and research projects, a fundamental start to careers that can impact the BME field, medical science, and the future technologies that can improve health outcomes and save lives.

Generous Fellowships Attract Stellar Graduate Students

Fellowships are an important part of the University of Minnesota’s graduate recruiting package.  In the Biomedical Engineering program, an anonymous donor endowed a fellowship for graduate students, creating some exciting opportunities.  Department head Bob Txxx says this “played an integral part in our graduate program recruiting success this year, as we were able to attract five exceptionally-qualified new graduate students by awarding them merit-based fellowship supplements.” We highlight three of them here.

Recipient Michelle Cxxx says her interest in BME began with her mother, an electrical engineer. Michelle completed her undergraduate studies at Northern Illinois University before choosing the U of M BME graduate program.  “I was looking at a couple of different graduate schools, but the U of M really stood out.  I liked how they have industry really close by,” as well as facilities such as the Magnetic Resonance Research (MRR) Center.  The fellowship she received was important as a student moving to Minnesota from out of state, a big help with the expenses of getting an apartment and settling in. After obtaining her PhD, Michelle says, “I’d like to work in imaging,” and she hopes to find a career in industry.

The program at the U of M is unique, as Michelle points out.  “The BME department lets you go through lab rotations.  You rotate through three labs before you decide which one to work on.  With other graduate schools you have to find a professor right away and latch onto them.”  She appreciated getting an overall view of the program first, which is made possible when fellowships can be offered to new graduate students, and then choosing the best fit with an adviser who then provides financial support through his/her research grants.

Recipient Chris Cxxx had an early interest in computers, electronics and technology.  “I realized that despite all of the amazingly complex technology that we’ve developed, none of it rivals the complexity found in biology.”  Biomedical Engineering combined these interests, and “allows me to develop and work with the technology I love and apply it in ways that can directly improve people’s lives.”  Chris came to the U with an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He says the fellowship “certainly helped me to view the U of M in a more favorable light when looking at graduate school options.”  He is interested in neural engineering (especially brain-machine interfaces) and biomedical imaging.

Recipient Ghaidan Sxxx is a citizen of Yemen and came to the United States after high school with the help of his father.  “He thought I would have a better opportunity than in Yemen.”  Ghaidan came to the U after graduating from Washington University in St. Louis, and the fellowship supplement was a major influence.  “It helped finance my trip here and also helped with the expense of moving to Minnesota… It wouldn’t have been possible without it.”  He’s interested in cell mechanics and tumor migration, and hopes to continue with research and become a BME professor.

The award of a fellowship (and in these five cases, a supplement to the standard fellowship amount) was undoubtedly a deciding factor when these gifted students chose the U of M BME as their graduate program.  BME alumni can significantly impact the future of the program by making a donation to help fund fellowships for graduate students (or scholarships for undergraduates).  This certainly helps students, but it also impacts the exciting research being done by drawing the best students to the U of M, leading to efforts that can improve people’s lives in amazing ways.